Indian romance books are (generally) split into two narratives: arranged marriage and Bollywood. And yes, I realize that this is a gross generalization, but it’s still a reality for many of us. It is a cruel paradox for a culture that has born some truly epic romances, such as the one between Lord Rama and Sita as well as any movie featuring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. (Bollywood in the ’90s and ’00s, am I right?)
As such, it can be taboo for Indians, especially female Indians, to pursue relationships that aren’t sanctioned by their families.
Sima Aunty from Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking had it right when she said that marriages in India (and in the diaspora) are either arranged marriages or love marriages, with the former generally considered to be the default. I say this because a common theme in many of these books is people trying to go against the cultural norm of arranged marriages and find love on their own. I’m not here to knock on arranged marriages, because there are plenty of folks who still want one because it makes them feel like they’re part of something bigger.
But for those seeking that Bollywood romance, the conflict then arises about being dutiful children while not shaming their respective families. Again, gross generalization, as several books here feature families who just want their loved ones to be happy. However, this tension makes for some great romance and family shenanigans, which are a way of life for Indians.
To be fair, there are plenty of serious fiction books that address Indians trying to escape arranged marriages, find love in arranged marriages, or live their normal lives amidst arranged marriages (or even love marriages). That said, Indian romance books are specially suited to talk about marriages in Indian society because they do so in a fun, engaging way that showcases that Bollywood romance with a nod to tradition and culture. In my opinion, they’re the best way to critique the institution of arranged marriages (and really marriage and romance in general) while also acknowledging why it has been so long lasting and even beneficial to many Indians.
Either way, whether people find love via an arranged marriage or love marriage or any committed and/or I-don’t-know-what-we-are relationship, I’m sure Sima Aunty would somewhat approve, even if some of these matches aren’t written in the stars by a panditji.
Note: I specifically selected more lighthearted Indian romances because the topic of marriage can be very intense in the Indian community, and I wanted to showcase the joy it can bring. That said, this decision does mean that I sadly could only find one queer romance. Hopefully, this list will be outdated soon and more can be added.
Adult Indian Romance Books
Let’s start with adult Indian romance books. Seeing as I’m in the age group of most of these characters, I personally found many of these stories to be truly delightful. Many of these showcase working professionals trying to balance their professional, personal, and family lives.
In fact, family will be a common theme in many of these books because Indian society is very much family oriented, meaning that families don’t just hang back and wait to be asked for advice. No. They’ll happily shove their noses in the lives of loved ones. In reality, this can be annoying. As a reader, it makes for some great chicanery. But seriously, beware the aunties.
The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel
Liya is a biochemical engineer and happily single, which her parents want to rectify. Their scheme is a dinner party with an eligible bachelor, who Liya takes one look at and then promptly escapes out the back door. But fate has other plans when that same man ends up being the lawyer hired to help Liya’s struggling company.
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
Despite being the perfect overachiever, Dr. Trisha Raje is still the black sheep in her family. DJ Caine is an aspiring chef who desperately needs the job offered to him by Trisha’s family. Despite his misgivings about Trisha and her family’s snobbery, he realizes that Trisha might be the only person who can save his sister’s life. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that DJ makes killer desserts that capture Trisha’s stomach (and heart).
The Marriage Game by Sara Desai
Layla’s life has fallen apart, and she decides to move back home to San Francisco. Her father hates seeing her so down and offers her an office space above his Michelin-starred restaurant. Layla doesn’t realize that her father has actually set her up on a series of blind dates until the first one knocks on the door. Sam didn’t know he was on a blind date either, only that he also wanted the office space, which means he now has to share with Layla.
Falling Into Place by Sheryn Munir
Tara really isn’t one for romance, especially after a college fling gone awry. Then during a rainy evening, Sameen comes into her life and changes everything. A future for a same-sex couple in urban India is challenging, to say the least. But Tara is determined to make things work.
The Shaadi Set-Up by Lillie Vale
Rita and Milan were high school sweethearts until he broke her heart. It’s six years later, and Rita has built a flourishing career for herself as well as an almost-perfect relationship. She really doesn’t need Milan back in her life, but she grudgingly agrees to help him flip a house for his real estate agency. But maybe Milan might be able to flip her heart in the process.
Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words by Annika Sharma
Kiran was always the good daughter, which becomes even more important after her sister stepped out of line and shamed the family. Nash doesn’t have a family and works as a psychologist, where he sees his patients living similar patterns of abandonment. The question is, will these two follow the same patterns designated to them at birth, or will they follow their hearts?
The Marriage Clock by Zara Raheem
Leila’s traditional Muslim American family has given her an ultimatum: find an eligible Muslim man to marry or they’ll find one for her. But what they don’t realize is that doing so goes against Leila’s ultimate dream of living out the perfect Bollywood romance, in which she finds love before her marriage. She just has three months to make this a reality.
A Holly Jolly Diwali by Sonya Lalli
Niki has always been practical…and a little type A, which suits her career as a data analyst but maybe not for her love life. Having always done the right things, her life is suddenly turned sideways when she’s laid off. Now seems like the perfect time to fully enjoy her life, so Niki decides to book a last-minute flight to a friend’s wedding. There, she meets Sameer, a free-spirited musician who she can’t help but feel attracted to.
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Ayesha has always wanted to be a poet, but is now a teacher so she can pay off a debt. Her family keeps reminding her that she needs to get married, but Ayesha really doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid, who she can’t help but be attracted to…until he ends up engaged to Ayesha’s cousin.
Someone Like You by Nikita Singh and Durjoy Datta
Niharika has entered college feeling pretty confident about herself and has even made some friends. It seems like everything is falling into place…until it’s not. She’s met and started dating the perfect Akshat. But that perfection starts to wither, and Niharika realizes that he’s hiding something.
The Rules of Arrangement by Anisha Bhatia
Zoya has pretty much everything: an excellent education, a great job, and a loving family. But she’s far from the perfect Indian girl in a society that doesn’t like dark-skinned, fat, and outspoken girls. Just as her family is getting ready to arrange a match for her, she gets an offer for a job in New York City, leaving her with a choice to pursue an accidental romance or not.
Once More Upon a Time by Roshani Chokshi
This one is a short but sweet novella about a fairytale romance between Imelda and Ambrose. The two must venture through magical lands and brave enchanted creatures so they can claim their heart desire…if only they can remember what that is…
Young Adult (YA) Indian Romance Books
Although adult Indian romance novels feature characters who’ve already ticked off many boxes that their families expect, YA Indian romance novels feature teenagers who’re still in the process of checking boxes. This makes for some great romance because while many of these characters have familial obligations they’re just learning to navigate, they’re also learning about the obligations they have to themselves (and their hearts).
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
This one’s a bit of a classic now, but I’d be remiss to not include it. Dimple has her life figured out: she’s going to a summer program for aspiring web developers to foil her mother’s plan of finding her the perfect Indian husband. Rishi is a romantic who’s excited to hear that his future wife will be at said summer program. The two think that they’ve got each other figured out, until they don’t.
I also want to shout out this unapologetic book cover with a brown girl looking like she’s enjoying that iced coffee. It was a revelation for me after years of only seeing light-skinned girls on the covers of YA novels.
A Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai
Simi comes from a family of matchmakers, who are delighted when she successfully sets up a cousin. But Simi is an artist and wants nothing to do with the family business until she realizes that it can help her and her friend Noah’s social standing. Unfortunately, using an ancient guide for love ends up upturning her entire school’s social ecosystem.
My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma
Winnie never believed that Raj was her soulmate, but a pundit literally predicted their match and of course Raj checks all of her family’s boxes. All this makes the fact that he cheated on her even more shocking. To add insult to injury, Raj is now the chair of the student film festival. Then there’s Dev, a fellow film nerd who shows her that there’s more to romance than predictions from the stars.
The Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim
Noreen is still mourning the loss of her aunt and is now with her mom in New Delhi for a gap year. In this loud, polluted, magical city, she meets Kabir. Thanks to him, Noreen learns about the city’s history, Sufi saints, and some pretty awesome karaoke parties. But then a family scandal upends everything.
Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger
Jazz has always been a great student and obedient to a fault, despite being a wise cracker. But it’s now her junior year of high school, and her mother learns that Jazz was seen hugging a boy. Immediately, she decides to set up Jazz with suitable Indian boys. But what happens when the only boy Jazz wants is really unsuitable?
Not enough romance for you? I don’t blame you one bit. Check out the story of the rise of the Indian romance novel, learn how romance novel covers are made, and/or decide if romance novels ruin relationships.